Banana is the common name for a type of fruit and also the herbaceous plants of the genus Musa which produce this commonly eaten fruit. They are native to the tropical region of Southeast Asia. Bananas are likely to have been first domesticated in Papua New Guinea. Today, they are cultivated throughout the tropics.
Banana plants are of the family Musaceae. They are cultivated primarily for their fruit, and to a lesser extent for the production of fibre and as ornamental plants. As the banana plants are normally tall and fairly sturdy they are often mistaken for trees, but their main or upright stem is actually a pseudostem. For some species this pseudostem can reach a height of up to 2–8 m, with leaves of up to 3.5 m in length. Each pseudostem can produce a bunch of green bananas which when ripened often turn yellow or sometimes red. After bearing fruit, the pseudostem dies and is replaced by another.
The banana fruit grow in hanging clusters, with up to 20 fruit to a tier (called a hand), and 3–20 tiers to a bunch. The total of the hanging clusters is known as a bunch, or commercially as a “banana stem”, and can weigh from 30–50 kg. The fruit averages 125 g, of which approximately 75% is water and 25% dry matter content. Each individual fruit (known as a banana or ‘finger’) has a protective outer layer (a peel or skin) with a fleshy edible inner portion. Both skin and inner part can be eaten raw or cooked. Western cultures generally eat the inside raw and throw away the skin while some Asian cultures generally eat both the skin and inside cooked. Typically, the fruit has numerous strings (called ‘phloem bundles’) which run between the skin and inner part. The inner part of the common yellow dessert variety splits easily lengthwise into three strips. Bananas are a valuable source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, and potassium.
Bananas are grown in at least 107 countries. In popular culture and commerce, “banana” usually refers to soft, sweet “dessert” bananas. The bananas from a group of cultivars with firmer, starchier fruit are called plantains. Bananas may also be cut and dried and eaten as a type of chip. Dried bananas are also ground into banana flour.
Although the wild species have fruits with numerous large, hard seeds, virtually all culinary bananas have seedless fruits. Bananas are classified either as dessert bananas (meaning they are yellow and fully ripe when eaten) or as green cooking bananas. Almost all export bananas are of the dessert types; however, only about 10–15% of all production is for export, with the United States and European Union being the dominant buyers.